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Amador Elementary School Delivers Virtual “Read Across America Day” during COVID Era

March 9, 2021

Starting in 1997, the National Education Association (NEA) began a push to establish a special day to celebrate reading throughout the United States. The concept quickly gained traction and a year later, the event known as “Read Across America” was established on March 2nd – which coincided with the birthdate of Dr. Seuss. Among some of the tangible goals were to have students pledge to read a certain number of books or to seek out new authors and book series.

At the elementary school level, the logistics were relatively easy as teachers could seamlessly rotate throughout different classrooms and grade levels. The immediate benefit to students was to experience a different approach and voice. It wasn’t long before parent volunteers and community members were invited to join and participate. Over the years, each school site has developed its own methodology and schedule. As many of our school norms were temporarily dismantled in 2020, the question lingering in the air was how to effectively maintain and delivery some of these legacy programs.

Amador Elementary School Media Technician, Ms. Traci Kaatmann, and Principal’s Secretary, Ms. Lori Godwin. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

Amador Elementary School developed a creative solution that would retain their traditions with the event and provide some added flexibility to the teaching staff. Our story begins with a discussion with Principal’s Secretary Lori Godwin. Ms. Godwin is an 18-year employee of DUSD – spending her first 12 at Murray Elementary then moving to Amador to open that site. Lori acted as a coordinator for this year’s event and collaborated with Media Technician Traci Kaatmann. They decided to solicit pre-recorded passages from a variety of community members to create a “video library” that teachers could access throughout the week. Given that the “Read Across America Week” celebration would look and feel very differently from previous years, please expand upon your collaboration with Traci Kaatmann on how to effectively execute this event in a distance setting.

Lori Godwin: “In our Amador office, we were discussing the upcoming events and we were trying to brainstorm how we could still do this event and be able to do it in a “virtual” world. As we talked, Traci made the connection to the new software program that we had just gotten for our yearbook that allowed people to upload photos. Traci determined that it also worked for videos. This would allow us to reach out to community members and ask them to record themselves reading a book. They could then upload the videos to our Dropbox.

Our schools run primarily with Google programs. So, it was easy enough to create a Google shared folder where all the videos could be placed and make them accessible to all of our classroom teachers. Having the videos available to the teachers allowed them the flexibility to enjoy them at a convenient time for the class.” You were able to secure a healthy number of videos from a wide range of advocates. Please explain your rationale in seeking out this diverse group of readers. 

Godwin: “I started out by reaching out to the same group of readers that I have done in years past.  This includes members of our DUSD District Office staff and Leadership, our school resource officers in Dublin Police Services and our local Dublin Firefighters. I started thinking about other relationships with other community members such as DPIE staff, EDCC, city leaders, Dublin Parks and Recreation and others. Since our event would be virtual, I was hoping that we could expand a little and that community members might have time to create a video which would hopefully be less time and easier to schedule than taking time to come to school in person.  I went to the City of Dublin’s web site to find email addresses and made a connection with the Dublin public library who not only participated but helped connect me with Alameda County Firefighters.

In a normal school year, some community members would typically commit to a single school’s Read Across America event (such as the school their children attended) which might not be Amador.  However, since this was a virtual event, I was hopeful that they could also participate with us also and I reached out to them as well.

We ended up with over 40 videos, including readers from EDCC (Extended Day Childcare), Dublin Police Services, the Dublin Public Library, Superintendent Moirao, Kristen Pelham – DUSD School Board Trustee, Alameda County Firefighters, DUSD District Office staff, our Amador PFC President and our own Amador Principal, staff and teachers; not to mention your participation. We were very pleased with the response.” Every school site within DUSD has been challenged with either choosing to preserve or temporarily postponing some legacy events. Kindly share why you and your colleagues felt passionate about maintaining “Read Across America Week” at Amador Elementary in 2021.

Godwin: “Reading is an integral part of our day to day lives and especially in education. Reading together is a fun event.  People enjoy participating.  It’s not time consuming. Reading a short story only takes 6 or 7 minutes.  It’s a favorite of staff, students, and community members. Students enjoy meeting new people and learning about the readers jobs and roles in the community. Community members enjoy getting a chance to connect with the students at our schools. And everyone knows Dr. Seuss and has a favorite story. Celebrating his birthday is fun. We have made it into a week-long celebration for many years.” 

Amador Elementary School “Read Across America” flyer created by Kindergarten teacher Ms. Erin Blakley We would like to ask how you feel that students and families have responded to the ongoing challenges and mechanisms of distance learning. Further, can you share a ‘best practice” (or two) conveyed by an instructor that has helped students to navigate this challenging and unfamiliar environment?

Godwin: “I feel that we have responded as well as possible to this situation. We have all certainly learned a lot from this experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with an experienced school leader that has been so instrumental in collaborating with the District Office staff to help create procedures and policies for our District. This is one of the most significant challenges that we have ever faced in our educational careers. It has not been easy going and none of us could have anticipated the length of this pandemic event. We all know that there is no easy answer to many questions that we have faced. Plus, we have had the challenges of continuously changing requirements. I am proud of how the staff and teachers have stepped up and done what they can to support the students and families. We have all learned a lot of new skills in a very short period of time and continue to try to think outside the box to adapt to our ever-changing environment.

One practice that we have done is to increase the amount of collaboration time, especially with our office staff. Our office, media technician and custodians have been having weekly zoom meetings to stay connected, brainstorm ideas and keep the lines of communication open. This has significantly helped us since we have had rotating schedules and less staff onsite at any one time.

As for teachers, I have seen them go above and beyond to try to communicate with families. I know it is difficult to communicate with many families at a time. I know that we all feel inundated with everything. It has been stressful for everyone.” We are now a mere three months away from the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year that has been like no other. As an experienced staff member at Amador, what message would you like to convey to the student/parent community as we move forward? 

Godwin: “I would like to convey my gratitude to students and parents that have been so understanding and kind to our staff.  I appreciate everyone’s patience as we all struggle to navigate these challenging times.  I look forward to the time that we are able to have students back on campus every day.”

The success of “Read Across America Day” at Amador Elementary was preceded by the restoration of another school site practice. The act of a class walking down to the library on a regular basis was suddenly interrupted last spring. Could this activity be reactivated in the fall given that all learning was being conducted remotely? Without a doubt, it would be a challenge. The challenge was two-fold: the students would not have physical access to the library and there was no pre-existing system to check-out/reserve books online.

As the school year moved deeper into the fall, Ms. Kaatmann and John Green Elementary Media Technician Barna De joined forces to develop a system that would work. The existing student database Destiny could be tweaked – but only to an extent. However, folding in a Google Sheet template would become the final element to facilitate the fulfilment of individual book requests. With the blessing of the school district, the program was piloted at Amador for 4th and 5th graders. With the kinks worked out, it was rolled out to all the elementary schools in January 2021. We sat down with Ms. Kaatmann to gain further insights. No doubt that the element of distance learning that had been placed upon all students within DUSD would disrupt certain “norms” for many Amador Elementary students. Please articulate the potential value of restoring the regular exercise of checking out books for many Owls.

Traci Kaatmann: “Students love coming to the library, so having the ability to check out library books helps restore a little bit of that sense of normality that we all need. They can’t come into the library to look for books as they have in the past, but they can browse for their favorite titles online and put in their requests. I have also used this time to enhance some of the features that were available, but not being used, in our library software. A great example of this is the visual search feature. It can be hard to know what to search for online, especially when it’s been a year since they have been here in the library. This is where my visual search feature comes in really handy. It’s great for younger students because they can click on a picture to search for a category of books. For instance, they can click on a picture of a dog for a list of dog books, or images of their favorite chapter books to see a list of all the books in that series. For older students I have set up visual search functions so that they can search for fiction by genres by just clicking on a button: historical fiction, fantasy, adventure and so on.

The demand for “no-contact” library has been high here at Amador. About 150 students participate each month. I have had students email me and say how nice it is to read an actual book, rather than something online. Teachers and parents have expressed their thanks for providing this service. I have even received a few hand- drawn thank you notes from students when they return their books. Offering library service in this manner is a bit of work, but this positive feedback makes it worth the effort.”

Ms. Traci Kaatmann’s media carts loaded with book orders awaiting pick up from families. Photo by: Traci Kaatmann The act of collaboration is at the heart of bringing things back to “normal.” Please share an example of how you and your colleagues made the best of an unprecedented circumstance that is now approaching a one-year anniversary.

Kaatmann: “Regardless of what role you hold on campus, everyone has had to re-think the ways we do things during distance learning. For the libraries that meant doing read-alouds over zoom and finding a way to offer library service to our students. It meant developing plans to use our library software in ways that it hadn’t been used before and training the students on this method. It meant learning from our successes as well as our mistakes and sharing that knowledge with the other elementary schools so that they could get their plans up and running. No contact library provides a way for us to get books into the hands of our students in a safe and socially distanced fashion. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that we have a way to provide library service to our students. And that is a good thing.”

So, our schools continue to demonstrate ingenuity and a true sense of partnership. Hopefully, the beneficiaries have been the students and their families. would like to thank Lori Godwin and Traci Kaatmann for sharing their journeys as we move towards the end of a school year like no other.

One Comment
  1. holly scroggins permalink
    March 9, 2021 12:22 pm

    Love the passion for reading that comes accross this article!

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